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PRINCE OGUNS RETURN TO BENIN LAND

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By Ekhaguosa Aisien (Last update 29-08-2018)

The well-known accounts of prince Ogun’s adventures and experiences in his struggle for his father’s throne are probably stories of his experiences after he returned to Edo land from Issele-Uku where he had been safely domiciled when his elder brothers, Egbeka and Orobiru, were successively ruling in Benin.

If Ogun’s Issele-Uku sojourn is accepted as a historical fact –after all, it is an integral part of the folklore of the People- then, it would be easy to explain the Uwaifiokun story, as told by Benin folklore. When Egbeka and Orohiru, the elder sons of Oba Ohen, were successively ruling in Benin, prince Uwaifiokun, Ogun’s younger brother, probably journeyed to lssele-Uku to meet and stay with his elder brother, Ogun. When news reached the Benin princes that Oba Orobiru was dead, the throne vacant and Benin chiefs were anxious to fill the vacancy, Ogun must have asked Uwaifiokun to journey home, ascertain the true state of affairs in the City and return to report whether it was ripe for Ogun to end his self-exile and return home into the welcoming embrace of the City chiefs,

Oba Uwaifiokun
Oba Ewuare
Emotan
But as it is told by folklore, Uwaifiokun arrived in Benin and received a happy welcome from the elders who were relieved that a prince of the realm was available. The chief enquired about his elder brother, Ogun.

Observing the relief which his presence in Benin engendered in the populace, Uwaifiokun decided to take the vacant throne for himself. He denied knowing the whereabouts of Ogun and whether he was alive or dead. Presented with this assertion. the city elders decided to crown Uwaifiokun the Oba.

In Issele-Uku. Ogun must have been flabbergasted at the shenanigans going on in Benin, Uwaifiokun’s perfidy was a hard blow to take and impossible to accept. It challenged all of Ogun’s self-worth, making him absolutely determined to reverse the treachery of this his younger sibling. He decided it was time for him to return home to take over the throne which now rightly belonged to him.

Ogun saw clearly that he had a big fight on his hands, a fight which he had not envisaged but now imposed on him by circumstances. After all, his elder brothers, Egheka and Orobiru had successively occupied the office of their father, Ohen, without having to fight for it.

The complication in this instance was that there was already a reigning Oba on the throne of Benin. Though he was a usurper-ruler, Uwafiokun had been given the throne wholeheartedly and with relief, by the city authorities who were unaware that a more eligible claimant was available. Uwaifiokun’s incumbency was therefore without opposition in Benin. The enormous problem facing Ogun, therefore was how to remove a reigning king from his throne, equipped as the king was with all the powers of incumbency and the loyalty of all those who had been deceived into making him the Oba, and were now enjoying the perquisites of office under his patronage.

Therefore, when Ogun set out from Issele-Uku to make his way to Benin, filled with righteous indignation, he was under no illusions at all about the difficulties he would encounter in his efforts to attain his goal. He had set out, simply put, to stage a coup d’ etat against constituted authority, against Uwaifiokun’s regime. It would cost him his life if he did not succeed in the enterprise.

It is possible to build a fairly coherent narrative about what happened next to prince Ogun’s life when one surveys the accounts of the events as narrated by folklore, even though the narration might be disjointed and at times sketchy.

The likely scenario was that the angry and betrayed Ogun arrived in Edo land from Ussele-Uku with a band of fighting men, intent on attacking the palace and dislodging Uwaifiokufun therefrom. The warriors must have been made up of some lssele-Uku fighting men provided by Enogie Ise, his mentor, and also by prince Ikhinmwin, his buddy. They would include his own personal servants. Ogun would arrive in Utee, his mother’s village, and augment the strength of his fighting force with stalwarts from the village and its environs. He would then cross the Ikpoba River to attack the palace.

Uwaifiokun’S forces were ready for him. The fight between these two brothers took place at the Unuogua, the approaches to the palace, now the King’s Square, Benin City. The encounter was a disaster for Ogun, and it nearly ended in tragedy for him. Ogun’s forces were routed, and the prince had to flee for his life.

He escaped through the present day Forestry Road — Ewaise Street and sought refuge in the premises of Chief Ogiefa Nomuenkpo. With the arrival of this unwelcome guest to distress. Ogiefa frantically went about looking for a secure place where to hide the prince so that he, Ogiefa, would not be accused of treason, of collaboration with the enemy, by Oba Uwaifiokun. There was a dry well in his premises. He let down a ladder into the well, helped by his slave EDO, and Ogun quickly climbed into the chasm. The ladder was withdrawn.

The slave, Edo, let down foodstuffs — roasted corn, roasted plantain, roasted yam on a rope to the hiding prince.

People had seen the fleeing Ogun seeking refuge in chief Ogiefa’s premises. So the chief was sent for, and interrogated. Under questioning, he broke down and admitted that Ogun was in his custody, and that he was hiding him in a dry well.

Stalwarts were immediately dispatched to apprehend the prince.

Edo, the slave, heard about the approach of the soldiers from the palace and knew immediately that his lord. under duress. had broken down and revealed where Ogun was hiding. But Ogiefa had left Ogun in his, Edo’s, care when the chief left home to answer the summons of the chiefs, Obliged as always to protect the interests of his lord, Edo quickly put back the ladder into the well and let Ogun out. Ogun escaped eastwards with his weapons into the jungle wilderness of the Okhorho section of the Ikpoba river valley.

The apprehending party went back to the chiefs and reported that the fugitive had escaped before they arrived in Ogiefa’s compound.

Ogiefa accused his slave Edo of acting beyond his powers and doing what he had not been authorized to do. In a fit of self- justification with his fellow chiefs, he ordered Edo to be hanged. The slave was hanged near where the lya Ero Moat passes today. He was a casualty of Ogun’s first attempt at gaining the throne of Benin.

Prince Ogun became a hunted fugitive, actively being looked for, so that he could be made to answer for his treasonable transgression against constituted authority. The Issele-Uku and the Utee warriors who came with him in this his initial effort to seize the throne from Uwaifiokun had all either been killed, taken prisoners or dispersed and he was virtually alone in the forbidding equatorial Forests of the lkpoba river valley, This time he probably steered clear of Utee village because he knew that his pursuers would assume that he might attempt to seek succour there his mother’s village, and so apprehend him there.

Many of the well-known stories about the travails of the fugitive Ogun before he finally succeeded in occupying the Benin throne probably occurred in this post- Ogiefa episode of his life, episodes like:

(a) His sleeping upon a python on the forest floor while at the same time, drops of blood were dripping on his body from the mouth of a drooling leopard which had just feasted on its prey and was snoozing high up on a branch of the tree under which Ogun was spending the night. In the morning Ogun discovered and killed both carnivorous animals with his ogala, his spear.

(b) The worm-tormented forest tree which groaned at night about the numerous worms burrowing into its trunk and eating up its innards. At day break Ogun brought much welcome relief to the tree.

(c) The Ogudugu n’Iyebo,  “Ogudugu the Mother of the Deities, “episode.

(d) Ogun’s purchase of the name “EWUARE”, which had belonged to the young son of a farmer, and whom Ogun had to murder in order to retain the exclusive use of the name after he had purchased it from the farmer — the boy’s father.

(e) Ogun’s acquisition of the companionship and followership of young Ogbeide, alias OKHUAIHE, and also of his other pre-accession companions and aides who were all later deified at their deaths..

(f) The story of AVAN, Ogun’s valet, title episode which Ogun ultimately culminated in the creation of the OSUMA title.

These are all stones about a wandering Prince in distress, often lonely, and always in fear for his life were he to fall into the hands of the Benin authorities.

It is not known how long this period of Ogun’s forest life lasted, but he seemed at last to have finally decided to quit running, and to turn round arid resume his onslaught on the city and Oba Uwaifiokun’s hold on power. He changed his tactics. Instead of another frontal confrontation with the authorities, he decided to size up the strengths and weaknesses of his adversary, knowledge which would determine how he would next proceed with his quest. He decided on intelligence gathering.

Ogun struck up a nocturnal acquaintanceship with an Oba market trader called EMOTAN. Emotan, whose real name was said to be Uwaraye was a childless widow who, when her husband, by name Ezama died, became homeless. She had been a trader in the Oba market before she was widowed and she had her stall there by the market. She was a kemwin kemwin — an “Odds and Ends” — trader. And as all kemwin-kemwin traders still do today, she had on her mart assorted items like red parrot feathers, dried berries of the alligator pepper, balls of dried chalk, moulted serpent’s skins, python fat, dried bat carcasses, feathers of the eagle. the baked clay tablets called eko (which pregnant women chewed to provide calcium for the bones of their un-born babies), Uden, the fragrant oil of the palm kernel, the dried roots and barks of medicinal shrubs and trees, other articles sought after by herbalists and by those carrying out the prescriptive instructions of native doctors and oraculists. In short, she was running a “Chemists Shop” of sorts.

On the death of her husband, Emotan, being childless, moved out of her matrimonial home — now owned by her stepsons, the children of her husband – into her Oba market stall. She strengthened and enlarged the structure so that it served her the dual purposes of a home and a shop. Sleeping in her built-up stall by the market, and surrounded by her medicinal wares, Emotan was relatively easy to contact and consult in the dead of night and the goings-on in town could be garnered from her once her confidence was won over.

Ogun returned to the outskirts of Benin City, and in the dead of night stole into the city. At the Oba market he struck up an acquaintanceship with Emotan, revealed to her who he was, the fugitive prince of the realm, and won her confidence and then, her support. Her stall, strategically placed as it was at the commercial center of the town, became Ogun’s listening-post. Emotan became his intelligence Officer and Tactical Adviser.

There are two folklore versions regarding how the Uwaifiokun problem was ultimately resolved. One version narrates that there was a pitched battle between the two opposing groups in the Oba market area at which Uwaifiokun was killed. This version might be referring to that first encounter when Ogun’s forces were worsted, and he barely escaped with his life.

The second and more plausible narration states that Ogun, supported by Emotan, got into the habit of placing some sacrificial offerings nightly at a shrine at the Unuogua, the palace mall. Oba Uwaifiokun was told about this and suspecting that the deed was Ogun’s handiwork, decided one night to investigate the matter personally. He came out with a small band of retainers and lay in wait in the darkness.

Ogun arrived at the shrine with his sacrificial items, and began the propitiation. He asserted that the spirits of the land knew that he. Ogun, was the rightful heir to the throne, and so he was beseeching them for their support in his efforts lo right the wrong done to him. He was deep in his supplicatory activity when he was surprised by Uwaifiokun’s little band.

Startled by the interference, Ogun darted into the darkness to make good his escape. He ran towards the Oba market. His pursuers, who included Uwaifiokun himself, were gaining on him, shouting imprecations. The chase arrived at the market, among the rows of stalls. Ogun realized he would not be able to out-run his pursuers. He wheeled round to defend himself, breaking off the timber support of one of the stalls and using it as a weapon.

With the large stick Ogun rushed at the 0n-rushing Uwaifiokun and shouting a warning to the pursuer to desist from further pursuing him, he hit the pursuer heavily on the head, Possibly cracking his skull. Uwaifiokun collapsed. His retainers, with shouts of anguish, turned and gathered round him. In the darkness and confusion, Ogun made good his escape back into the jungles.

Oba Uwaifiokun died of his head injuries.

The throne was now vacant and nightly Ogun would steal into Emotion’s shed and there fed with news regarding the prevailing opinions in the city about him and about the throne

Opinions were divided. Some groups were for asking prince Ogun to occupy the throne of his father if only he would come out of hiding. Other groups, notably the Uwaifiokun loyalists, were for awarding the throne to any other available Ohen descendant, and their opinion seemed to be gaining in general acceptance.

Ogun decided to raise the stakes higher and push the town authorities into accepting none other than himself as king. He decided to burn down Benin City, to bring pain to the authorities and so hurry their acquiescence in accepting him as their king.

One night Ogun burnt Benin City down, setting fire to the thatched roofs of the houses, and causing untold agony and loss to the populace. It was when he got to the UNUERU district, off the present-day Sokponba Road, near Erie Street in the perpetration of this act of arson that the chief of the area saw him. He rushed to him, held tightly on to him, and implored him to desist from any further acts of despoliation of the town.

The Unueru chief then acted as the intermediary between the flustered prince Ogun and the other chiefs who, with great relief, accepted the prince as their king.

The prince was crowned the Oba of Benin. He assumed the titular name of”EWUARE”: “The Heat Has Abated.”

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